Whenever I’m not feeling on top of my game I tend to look to the kitchen, be it yours, mine or anyone else’s, to make me feel better. Sometimes all I need is some tenderness from the inside to instil a sense of calm and soothing again. And once that’s done, the world feels far friendlier.
This week, I needed a bit of TLC and yes, I did buy and relish an entire slab of White Lindor, but for some reason it didn’t make me feel any better, it didn’t give me the hug I needed. So, I started perusing through my recipe books, the Indian ones, of course, because let’s be serious, when I want a touch of mum, it always starts with intense flavours. This week, the taste that realigned me was that of an Indian rice pudding, affectionately called Sweet Rice or Pal Payasam.
This is Keralan (South Indian) dessert, calls on my favourite spice, elachi. I seem to have a love-hate relationship with this aromatic because it is used in a lot of Indian savoury and sweet dishes. For years, I would sit, gleefully tucking into my plate of Briyani, relishing the fluffy potatoes and beautiful spices, until I would suddenly bite on something less than appetising. My lips would furl, my heart would sink and I would know it was none other than the fault of a shneaky elachi pod. That rude interruption then sullies your mouth for the rest of the meal. I would be so disappointed every time it happened that I can now smell a pod on my my plate from 100 meters always. Yes, I am a woman of many seemingly useless talents.
3-4 elachi pods (cardamom)
1 tsp ghee
1 T pistachio nuts cut lengthways
1 T raisins (optional)
⅓ cup rice with high starch content (I used sushi rice but arborio will work as well)
1½ cups milk
¼ cup sugar (to taste)
In a pestle and mortar, crush the elachi pods until it becomes a fine dust. Remember to breathe deeply and feel the warmth of this heady aroma. Heat the ghee (I used butter but you could also use coconut oil, if you have any), toast the nuts and drain on a piece of paper towel. Pour milk into the pot with the ghee or butter and add the washed rice and elachi powder. On a medium heat, stir intermittently so that the milk doesn’t burn. When the grains are plump, add the sugar and dissolve. If the rice is a bit claggy, add more milk to loosen it. This dessert should be the same consistency as risotto.
This recipe is adapted from Fresh Flavors of India by Das Sreedharan